The National Center for Educations Statistics found that the average age of school buildings in the United States is 55 years old. This puts the average date of construction at 1959. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), almost one-fourth of the nation’s schools have at least one building in need of repair and maintenance and almost half (115,000) experience problems with indoor air quality.
Poor indoor air quality negatively affects learning and productivity in the classroom. It is important to look out for the health and comfort of students and teachers when constructing school buildings. Failure to do so can result in a variety of consequences including severe health complaints, expensive repairs, workers’ compensation claims, and potential litigation. You should avoid careless construction practices outlined by the EPA such as failure to clean up spilled adhesives and improper ventilation during and after the application of sealants in an occupied building.
A malfunctioning HVAC system can negatively impact air quality. However, there are signs to look out for and actionable ways to mitigate any issues caused by a faulty heating and cooling system.
HVAC System Performance
It is crucial to have properly operating HVAC systems within schools to provide adequate outdoor ventilation, to control odors, and to reduce pollution that can cause most of the indoor air quality issues in school buildings. This is why it’s important to check school HVAC systems for signs of malfunction:
- Unusual smells. Metallic, oily, or pungent odors are sure signs a school’s HVAC system needs to be repaired or replaced.
- Difficulty maintaining the right temperature. This is perhaps the most obvious sign of a malfunctioning HVAC system in a school. It is either not cooling properly or not heating properly. The problem is generally associated with a longer-running system, that has a hard time reaching and maintaining target temperatures.
- Poor ventilation. HVAC systems are not just for regulating temperatures. They should also ensure that school buildings have proper ventilation. Without proper ventilation, there is a higher risk of air pollution.
- Higher than usual operating costs. Efficiency is very important to the operation of an HVAC system. If the system is using energy at a higher than usual rate, then chances are, it will reflect on the school’s energy bill. This is a sign that the entire system should be inspected for any issues.
To prevent and fix any of these issues a school’s HVAC system may be experiencing, it is highly recommended that new constructions and renovations consult with a licensed mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineer for regular maintenance and servicing. Schools should not attempt to do this type of work as hiring an expert will save costs in the long run. Implementing a thorough maintenance plan will ensure optimal performance of all parts and systems and frequent inspections can help all school buildings, new and existing, achieve good air quality through HVAC systems.
Fresh Air Circulation
To ensure adequate fresh air circulation in schools, implement rules for teachers and students to follow such as reminding school staff and students to keep learning materials (i.e. books. papers, etc.) and other items off HVAC units.
The EPA suggests that you should also check with your building operator to ensure outdoor air quality is provided according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard or local code. Furthermore, ensure that maintenance staff regularly change filters for optimal performance and operation.
Energy efficiency can be simply defined as providing and maintaining the highest possible indoor air quality at the lowest possible cost. To ensure your school building’s HVAC system is maximizing efficiency and lowering costs, consider developing a plan to measure the system’s energy output compared to total costs. Consult with your building operator for the installation of efficient fan motors as well as the proper sizing to meet your school’s district load.
You should also consider installing an outdoor measuring station that regulates and controls the outdoor air that enters the building. Implementing Demand Control Ventilation (DCV), which involves the matching of airflow rate with the actual demand of the building, can increase efficiency and lower costs as well. A DCV system measures a room’s temperature, which prevents overheating and overcooling.
This is very important for schools because certain rooms within schools have specific heating, cooling, and ventilation needs. For example, classrooms have high ventilation requirements. Science classrooms and computer stations require extra cooling and ventilation. Installing Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs), which control the frequency and voltage of AC motors, can be beneficial for conserving energy and saving costs as well.
Combating Moisture And Mold
Building elements including roofs, walls, doors, and windows should be regularly evaluated for signs of dampness and moisture damage as well as mold. A detailed plan should be developed to correct any moisture issues that may affect any of these elements. Give maintenance staff directions to clean all air supply filters, outside air intakes, and return registers to control and combat moisture and mold. Also, ensure that condensate drain pans are functioning properly to collect condensation and carry it out of the AC system through a drain line.
Ensuring that schools have good air quality is of the utmost importance to the safety of school staff and students. According to the EPA, students are at greater risk of developing health problems from poor air quality because children are often susceptible to pollutants. To combat health risks and other consequences, you should work with an MEP engineer, who is skilled and experienced in providing maintenance of HVAC systems and ensuring good indoor air quality within school buildings.